Northern Canada will miss Clarkson


Governor General Adrienne Clarkson’s recent visit to Nunavut is likely to be her last as Canada’s head of state.

Her term, which began in October of 1999, has already been extended and will soon expire. A new Governor General is expected to be appointed in the fall of this year.

For residents of Nunavut, Nunavik and Canada’s other Arctic regions, Clarkson will be missed. No other Governor General has visited Canada’s north as often as she has, and no other Governor General has given as much recognition to the people of Canada’s north, and to the other circumpolar countries with which we have so much in common.

As the head of state, and the Queen’s representative in Canada, it’s part of the Governor General’s job to affirm the nation’s identity. For Clarkson, that means all of Canada, as she demonstrated in March of 2001, when she visited Nunavik, the first Governor General to do so, and said this to the people of Kuujjuaq: “You are included in the psyche of Canada, and the Governor General is here to say you are.”

Clarkson, who also served as patron to the Inuit Circumpolar Conference’s 25th anniversary celebrations in Kuujjuaq, held in August of 2002, has carried the same message to the Northwest Territories, the western parts of Nunavut, and other places that don’t get much recognition in southern Canada.

But many of her critics never got the point.

In October of 2003, when she led a group of 57 Canadians, including about half a dozen northern residents, on a tour of Iceland, Finland and Russia, many members of Parliament, numerous southern media commentators, and many Canadians balked at the $1 million cost. Members of the House of Commons also raised questions about the budget for the Governor General’s office, which at the time stood at about $19 million a year, up from $11 million in 1999. She was also involved in activities funded by other government departments, such as foreign affairs, that cost another $20 million.

As a result, the second leg of Clarkson’s circumpolar tour, which would have taken her to Norway, Sweden, Denmark and Greenland in 2004, was cancelled.

That’s unfortunate. No one ever considered, apparently, the idea of reducing the scale of the tour, or reducing the number of participants to cut costs. Of course, few people in southern Canada gave any thought anyway to the value of closer economic and cultural ties between Canada and other northern countries.

But it helps to reveal the parochialism and shortsightedness that has led to Greenland, our closest circumpolar neighbour, now enjoying closer ties with the United States than with Nunavut and the rest of Canada. Thanks to a recent agreement between Greenland and the U.S. government, numerous cultural and economic exchanges are taking place between the two countries, many of them paid for by U.S. taxpayers – who aren’t complaining at all.

Clarkson’s circumpolar tour may have carried a big price tag – but there’s also a price to be paid for narrow thinking. Besides, the federal government spends many hundreds of millions of dollars a year on numerous programs that receive no publicity, or any effective public scrutiny. When compared with the federal government’s $150 billion annual budget, the $19 million that goes to the Governor General’s office every year amounts to a rounding error on an interest payment. As for her salary, the Governor General is paid $110,126 a year – much less than most top public officials in Nunavut, many of whom have mismanaged their organizations into total dysfunction and are rarely held accountable.

Despite what many southerners may believe, northern Canadians received full value from Adrienne Clarkson. JB

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